MALCOLM CROFT The Little Black Book Of Setlists (Portico)
Mr Croft seems to prefer anonymity – the only credit on the cover goes to Glen Matlock, Sex Pistol and foreword writer –with Malcolm’s “Compiled & Edited by” consigned to the small print in the neighbourhood of the ISBN number and copyright information, but he surely deserves naming and shaming. What might on initial inspection seem like an excellent idea for a stocking-filling tome, “the setlists of the shows that shaped rock ‘n’ roll” palls a deal in reality, as the reader will require fairly catholic tastes to be interested in and stimulated by what is in effect a book of lists of song titles by artists ranging from Woody Guthrie and Miles Davis to Katy Melua and Take That. It’s enlivened not a lot by brief, teethgrindingly glib commentary. We learn that Hendrix’s Woodstock performance was “arguably one of the most inspiring sets ever played” – really? Wasn’t it a bit of a directionless Monday morning comedown, “The Star Spangled Banner” excepted? The Floyd’s Earls Court performance of “The Wall” was apparently “the band’s live swansong before reforming for Live8 in 2005”, which must come as a surprise for anybody who saw them touring “A Momentary Lapse Of Reason” and “The Division Bell”. And how about this pithy insight on the subject of Aerosmith’s 1990 Monsters Of Rock appearance: “A great show from one of the great rock bands. For everyone who remembers being at this gig (the band surely don’t) we know that it was one worth remembering.” Of The Prodigy’s 1997 V Festival set, we learn the band “did not fail too disappoint the hungry crowd”; well, I’m no Prodigy fan either, but that seems a bit of a harsh assessment. And who are these Artic Monkeys of whom Croft speaks so highly?
However, I’m saving the bulk of my indignation for the setlists themselves, the book’s supposed raison d’etre. There are times, too many times, when the extent of Croft’s research seems to have been to copy the tracklisting down from the back of a live album. The Band’s “The Last Waltz” setlist, for example, apparently featured pretty much exactly the same tracks as released on the four CD expanded edition of the soundtrack album in exactly the same order, even down to the superfluous rehearsals, studio tracks and early versions that pad out the final disc. Jeff Buckley’s 6th July 1995 show at the Paris Olympia miraculously contains the same tracklist as his fantastic “Live A L’Olympia” album, despite the fact that the latter was drawn from three separate concerts, with the closing duet with Alum Qasimov, “What Will You Say”, clearly identified in the booklet as being taken from that year’s Festival of Sacred Music. The setlist of The Who’s legendary Leeds gig is equally infuriating: it’s long been known (probably for about 40 years, I’d guess) that “Tommy” was performed complete that night, yet here the setlist ends with “Amazing Journey”.
There’s the odd moment of fascination here, such as discovering that Abba performed several songs from “Super Trooper” (sic) at their November 1979 Wembley gig, despite that album being a year away from release. (They also played “Chiquita”, “Gimme, Gimme”, “Money, Money” and “Old Friends” whatever they are.) And Elton’s 60th birthday gig at Madison Square Garden looked great, being constructed almost entirely from songs he recorded before 1976.
Really, though – and yes, I’m aware that I’m flogging a dying horse here – for anyone with a passing interest in accuracy, this deeply disappointing book is a non-starter, more likely to start fights than settle arguments.